6 Common Zombie Movie Misconceptions

Some people think they know what zombies are. That's a very crazy notion they've let sneak into their bowl for a head that's full of zombie food, if you ask me. Over the last seventy-seven years we've seen the definition of "zombie" change dramatically. Some people think George Romero created zombies. Those people don't watch movies. Some people think zombies have rules and guidelines, like when you're the son of a famous parody director, or the writer of a black and white comic book. You want zombie commandments? Book a flight to Haiti or West Africa. Otherwise, just read cheap fan-fiction, which is no more the truth than the word of Romero. So, what are some common misconceptions about zombies and the undead in cinema history?

1. First zombie movie: White Zombie in 1932. You can't dispute this one, so don't even try. Thirty-six years before George Romero "invented" zombies, Victor Halperin's White Zombie mysteriously did the same thing. Unless you don't believe the world existed before 1968 (which is ironically when Romero made the world end), then everyone must acknowledge this as the very first zombie movie. And who better to create the first on-screen zombies than Bela Lugosi? Exactly.
2. First deviation from the definition of a zombie: Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Zombies eat human flesh? That doesn't sound right. Let me check my dictionary that I have right here at all times. Well, I'm be damned (just not the resurrected kind). George Romero was the first person to change the definition of a zombie. Not Danny Boyle. Now I can stop giving 28 Days/Weeks Later such a hard time, and apologize to him. Oh, wait. Boyle never called them zombies. Now I'm twice the asshole. And I'm finished with the sarcasm (thrice for those keeping count).
3. First full speed, running zombie: S. William Hinzman's cemetery zombie in Night of the Living Dead in 1968. That's right. The first flesh-eating zombie to ever chase a living person on screen was running after a car and trying to bust in the windows. Simple inconsistency or not, Romero needs to can his "zombies don't run" talk. I love Romero. I truly do. But he screwed up. And he screwed up first. Remember that.

4. First zombie to speak: Bub from Day of the Dead in 1985. Only the coolest zombie from what I consider to be "the" zombie movie masterpiece. Bub was also the first zombie that fans rooted for. Well, that may be debatable, depending on how much of a jerk you are. You don't like it when zombies speak in all of these new movies? Tough. Once again, blame Romero.
5. First vegetarian zombie: Bud from Day of the Dead in 2008. Now if, judging by my last one, I consider the original to be the supreme living dead film, and can sit through this myself, and enjoy it (marginally), then surely you can, too. When I first saw this, and Bud, the vegetarian, became a zombie who didn't eat his friends, I thought, "That's a pretty creative idea, but surely this isn't the first movie to do that." Well, I was wrong. It was. Yes, you read correctly: a remake of a classic with an original idea. I suppose we're all a little too quick to judge. Then again, that was a very minor element of the story, so...the movie still blew.
6. First zombie movie remake: Zombie Holocaust (aka Zombi Holocaust, aka Zombie 3, aka Doctor Butcher, M.D.) in 1980 was, for better or worse, a remake of Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2, released only one year before the Holocaust "reimagining," or whatever they call it these days. Though you won't find it called a remake anywhere, the similarities are closer than any remakes nowadays: "Zombie Holocaust uses Zombi II cast members (most notably Ian McCulloch and Dakar in nearly identical roles); both movies are set in New York and on a tropical island location; the climax in both movies features the zombies perishing in a hospital/church fire; some shooting locations are the same (especially the church); Zombie Holocaust uses footage from Zombi II, like the burning church and the camera panning across the lake with the landrover driving along the side of it; in some markets, Zombie Holocaust was released as Zombie 3; and both movies feature a main character named Peter." Try saying this isn't a remake with a straight face. Now get off Zach Snyder's back.
(Bonus) First recorded case of a zombie in real life: Jesus Christ (32 AD). Offensive or sacrilegious as it may sound, he was. I'm not the first person to understand this. And I won't be the only one to burn in Hell for thinking it.
People hypnotized by voodoo are zombies. The dead returning to life are zombies. Unlucky, alien-infested rednecks are zombies. Virus-infected, violent Englishmen are zombies. There are many causes to the effect, including but never limited to: radiation poisoning, toxic spills, evil spirits (from ancient books of the dead or otherwise), simian rage experiments, mad scientists, cancer cures, asteroids, alien viruses, military super-weapons, Sumatran rat-monkeys, Hell is overflowing, and simply the vengeful wrath of God. Sometimes there isn't even a reason presented. Some eat human flesh. Some eat human brains. Some will even eat animals or organic foods from companies that employ them. And in rare instances, some return from the dead and purge mankind of sin. But with how often that happens, it's better to shoot first and ask questions later.

Removing the head or destroying the brain sometimes works. Otherwise, you'll have to burn them in an incendiary or electrocute them. They aren't always violent though. While some manage to even speak, many others can actually blend into society with several people none the wiser. Some like to dance. Some frequent shopping malls and high school proms. Some are household pets and butlers. Some are Nazis. Some wield weapons. Some, while dead, can still give birth. Some are immortal because they want to live forever. Sheep can be zombies. Chickens can be zombies. Even Dobermans, crocodiles, and crows are unsafe. Some shamble around from the rigor mortise and some run as fast as a living person. Decay can take weeks, days, or even seconds. The truth is, a zombie is no longer truly defined in this present cinema-scape. So you'd better start getting used to it, because in the war on zombies, those that get left behind are already dead.


ZedWord said...

I don't think I agree with you on #6.

Remakes are official. Zombie Holocaust is a rip-off.

Ryan Coddington said...

Actually, that's probably closer to the truth really. And it was an atrocious rip-off at that.

Tower Farm said...

"And I won't be the only one to burn in Hell for thinking it". Great stuff!


Derek M. Koch said...

This is a very well-put-together piece, and I definitely agree with a lot of what you posted here. So many forget about pre-Romero zombie films when thinking about zombie cinema. (I'm constantly looking for more "voodoo-style" zombie movies to review on my Mail Order Zombie podcast!)

However, I would disagree that Romero was the first to create a change in the zombie archtype. 'The Astro-Zombies' was released in May 1968, months before the original 'Night...' and there was the 1950s serial 'Zombies of the Stratosphere' which both created something other than a voodoo-/hypnotized-style creature and called them zombies even though they had little to no resemblance to what we had come before.

And I'm not sure on the timeline, but I'm pretty sure Tofu the Vegan Zombie predates the 'Day of the Dead' remake.

Ryan Coddington said...

Yeah, I'm definitely a fan of the old voodoo zombie films.

I'm not familiar with Zombies of the Stratosphere, but I'll admit that I completely overlooked The Astro-Zombies. Though due in part to not realizing it predated Romero's original.

And I've heard of the animated Tofu the Vegan Zombie in Zombie Dearest, but have never seen it. It's a short film if I recall, so technically that still counts. Man, more and more the misconceptions seem to be on my part.

Jordan in Texas said...

Technically, if we're going on the Bible, Lazarus would be the first zombie.

Ryan Coddington said...

Good point. But I was basing it more off the fact that he asked his apostles to eat his flesh and drink his blood, then resurrecting. But maybe Lazarus had some secret cannibalistic tendencies that never made it into the story...

brian pucket said...

This was a good list.

Anonymous said...

In 1941's "King of the Zombies" the zombies eat "Brew" cooked up by Tahamba, one of the voodoo people. Jeff (played by Mantan Moreland) is told that "Zombies like Dark Meat" (and he being black, freaks out) but the mad witchdoctor tells him, "Don't be silly, zombies don't eat meat." Nowhere in the film do they eat flesh, only the brew.

Also in the same film, when Jeff is "zombiefied" (hypnotized under a voodoo spell to become a zombie) he has quite a bit of dialog.

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Tydeus said...

Actually, the first zombie film was in 1919 called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Also, if reanimated corpses are "zombies" then in 1910 you have Frankenstein.